In 1906, a print ad for Domino Sugar's 5-lb, sealed boxes of sugar proclaimed: "Imagination could not conceive of a handier and prettier form than is presented in ‘Crystal Domino Sugar.'"
Spring forward 108 years, and the same words perfectly describe the new package Domino Foods Inc. has created for its Quick Dissolve Superfine white sugar and Pourable brown sugar. The sugars are sold under both the Domino and the C&H brand names.
The new carafe-like package launched in the northeastern United States in the fall of 2013 and currently is completing its rollout in the western part of the country. Décor-friendly but also practical, the bottle combines good looks with ease of use.
"It was designed to be a very graceful shape-the word we use is ‘willowy,'" says Brian O'Malley, president/CEO of Iselin, N.J.-based Domino Foods. The company, which markets the Domino and C&H brands, is part of ASR Group.
Aesthetics were a key concern, because Domino Foods wanted a package that would look good sitting out in the kitchen or dining room. "Because of the shape and the way it looks, it's table-worthy. It's a nice departure from the typical sugar bowl that's sitting on your kitchen table or countertop, and it can spark somebody to say, ‘Wow, I really like the look of that. Where did you get it?'" O'Malley says.
Ease of use was the other critical goal of the package design. "Functionally, it was important it fit into the consumer's hand and allow them to easily open and dispense the sugar onto their food or into drinks without using a spoon," O'Malley explains.
He adds, "We wanted to make sure, because of the size of the product, that it would be very easy to use, for everybody." The fill weight of the packages is 12 oz for Quick Dissolve Superfine sugar and 10 oz for Pourable brown sugar. The bottles are close to 8 inches tall.
Better package, better sugar
Domino Foods worked with New York-based design firm 4sight Inc. to develop the ergonomic new package, which features a high waist that's easy to grip for people of all ages and with hands of all sizes. The disc-type dispensing closure can be operated with one hand.
The category-busting package emerged from insights gained in focus groups, during which consumers brainstormed about packaging formats that would make sugar easier to use and store.
"We looked at a variety of different things, and these—what we call the ‘vase products'—were the culmination of all of that work," O'Malley recalls. To add even more value, Domino decided "to take improved sugar products and put them in the improved package. We thought of it as a way to give the customer a double benefit, basically taking a well-designed package and putting a better sugar in it."
The Quick Dissolve Superfine white sugar, which has been on the market for several years as Domino and C&H Superfine Sugar, is granulated. But its granules are smaller and more uniform in size than those in conventional white sugar, so it dissolves more quickly and thoroughly, even in cold drinks. Until now, Superfine Sugar has been packaged in paperboard cartons.
As for the Pourable brown sugar, it has been available for many years in the eastern United States as Domino Brownulated Light Brown Sugar. The product, which is formulated with less moisture than conventional brown sugar to eliminate clumping and hardening, was originally packaged in a carton but in recent years has been available in a resealable stand-up pouch.
With the launch of the vase package, this specially formulated brown sugar will be distributed in the western states for the first time. In that region, it will be sold as C&H Pourable Golden Brown Sugar. In the east, the product will be called Domino Pourable Light Brown Sugar.
Domino Foods plans to switch completely to the vase package for its Quick Dissolve Superfine and Pourable brown sugars, nationwide, as the cartons and pouches currently on-shelf sell through.
Anatomy of a package
The new package design includes just three components: a colorless, transparent bottle; a white, opaque closure; and a full-body shrink sleeve. Adhering to its corporate commitment to sustainability, Domino chose recyclable materials for all three components. The bottle is PET, the closure is polypropylene and the shrink label is PETG.
Form and function meld neatly in all parts of the package. The injection blow-molded bottle, with its oval base and gentle curves, is easy on the eye and the hand. And the closure, viewed from above, looks like an egg, right down to its color and its size.
The pleasingly shaped closure comprises two pieces. The primary part, which snaps into the top of the bottle, is molded with a triangular aperture for dispensing. The second piece is a hinged lever that covers the snap-in component. The product's logo (either Domino Sugar or C&H) is embossed in the center of the lever for some subtle branding.
To dispense the product, the consumer presses a small depression molded into the lever beneath the logo; the lever flips up to reveal the aperture. Pressing on the other end of the lever closes the cap with a satisfying click. The consumer can hold the bottle, open it, dispense the sugar and reclose it, all with one hand.
On unopened packages, the shrink label extends well over the closure, providing a tamper-evident seal that exposes only the logo embossed in the cap. The label is horizontally perforated at the bottom edge of the closure for easy removal of the tamper-evident portion.
The label also is perforated vertically, from top to bottom, for easy removal prior to recycling or, if the consumer prefers, a non-labeled sugar dispenser on the tabletop. Unwilling to let its brand identity disappear with the label though, Domino Foods debosses the Domino Sugar or C&H logo directly into the bottle. The logo appears near the bottom of the bottle, on the widest portion of the package.
Protect and present
Creating a package structure that consumers would feel good about leaving in plain sight was a key part of the project, but product protection was equally important.
Moisture barrier was an essential consideration. "The combination of PET packaging material, coupled with a snap-close feature in the flip top, protects against moisture and provides the consumer a great option for handling and storing their sugars," says O'Malley.
Freshness was another concern. The closure "provides maximum moisture control and also keeps the product as fresh as possible. Sugar will pick up odors from other things in the cabinet, if you have it sitting next to coffee, for example," O'Malley explains. "With the cap on, you're going to have maximum moisture control and freshness capability."
Prior to purchase, the shrink label provides a modicum of extra moisture and gas barrier by covering the seam between the bottle and closure.
The label's most important job, however, is branding. The shrink label's graphic design features swirls of each brand's signature color—yellow for Domino Sugar and pink for C&H—and highlights the package's easy-pour feature with text and an arrow. The label material's clarity and high gloss, together with high-quality flexographic printing, provide a premium look for the products and position the offerings as part of their respective brand families.
Two swirling windows on the label provide a clear view of the product inside. "One of the things we really wanted to do was make sure the product showed through. On the brown sugar, you can see that it's not like a regular brown sugar. This is a different product. You can see the granules," O'Malley points out.
"And in the case of the pourable white sugar, the Quick Dissolve, the crystals are identifiably smaller than what you typically see in a sugar bowl," he adds. "That's why we wanted to make sure that the products are actually visible. With most sugar, if not all, you really can't see the product. It's hidden in the package."
On the filling line
Domino Foods uses multiple contract packagers to fill the vase packages. The brand owner sends its sugar in trucks to the contract-packaging plants, where the product is off-loaded into flexible silos. Each silo can hold up to 53,000 lbs.
From there, the sugar is transferred to a controlled-environment filling room using flexible screw conveyors. The empty vase containers pass through an inverter/rinser to remove any particulate, and sugar is metered into each container using a customized dual-head filler. The filler has an integrated weigh scale to ensure correct fill weight.
After the containers are filled, a product code is laser-etched into bottom of the package. Then, as the containers exit the filler, a cap is manually placed on top of each container and a customized piece of equipment seats the cap securely in the opening. The filled, capped containers then pass through a metal detector and are conveyed out of the controlled-environment room.
From there, the containers are conveyed through a full-body sleever followed by a customized dry-heat shrink tunnel. Finally, the labeled packages are manually packed into shipping cases, six per case.
After distribution and unpacking at the point of purchase, the vases make a pleasantly disruptive statement on-shelf.
"We're hoping the biggest attraction, as consumers walk down the aisle, will be this innovative shape—that it will draw them to the product to take a closer look," O'Malley says. "We hope our loyal customers will be attracted to these new products, but also that new customers will be attracted to them and think of us for other items they need, for baking. It's the halo effect."
4sight Inc., 212-253-0525, www.4sightinc.com
Thinking outside the (sugar) box
The vase package from Domino Foods is just the latest in a series of packaging innovations for the Domino Sugar and C&H brands. The company sells C&H granulated sugar in a 4-lb gabletop carton, for example, and it sells both brands in a 4-lb plastic canister.
The canister has an easy-grip feature and easy-open lid, and its wide diameter makes it simple to scoop out sugar. The color of each canister coordinates with the identifying brand color: yellow for Domino and pink for C&H.
Made of polyethylene, the canisters and lids are recyclable. But the company encourages consumers to reuse them, as well, with a web page highlighting the ways in which the package can be repurposed when the sugar is gone-storing puzzle pieces, making a piggy bank, holding crayons, storing leftovers and more.
Domino Foods also has responded to consumers' requests for easier-to-store packaging by introducing resealable-zipper bags and pouches.
For the younger set, the company packages a blend of granulated sugar and cinnamon in a fun shaker package. The 3-oz Sugar ‘N Cinnamon Shakers are figurine-like bottles decorated with cartoon characters. Marketed as collectibles, the shakers help the brand live on after the product is gone.